The 2023 NFL offseason is set to bring massive changes across the league. The last two offseasons saw an unprecedented number of trades take place that involved star players and quarterbacks. This year’s slate of free agents is especially strong at running back.
Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. isn’t one of the star-level names but has proven to be a valuable piece. Let’s break down why the Dolphins should want to re-sign Wilson, where else he could end up, and what his contract could look like.
Why Re-Signing Jeff Wilson Jr. Makes Sense for the Dolphins
The Dolphins traded a fifth-round pick for Wilson after the team sent free agent bust Chase Edmonds to the Denver Broncos in their deal for edge defender Bradley Chubb. Wilson, who had previously played under Mike McDaniel when the latter was run game coordinator and then offensive coordinator with the 49ers from 2018 through 2021, became the second former 49ers back to follow McDaniel.
Wilson was solid but unspectacular with the 49ers, producing 4.4 yards per carry over four-plus seasons. With Edmonds ineffective next to Raheem Mostert, Wilson has been able to provide direct support in a true rotation with Mostert. Wilson appeared to quickly earn the starting job from Week 9 through Week 12, but Mostert earned a bigger workload in subsequent weeks.
Wilson, who just turned 27 in November, is far from atop this free agent class of backs. He’s on a one-year, $1.085 million deal that was signed after his rookie deal expired. The Dolphins figure to be strapped for cap space after gigantic deals for Tyreek Hill, Chubb, Xavien Howard, and Emmanuel Ogbah. Wilson, along with possibly Mostert and a rookie, would form an effective but affordable rotation for McDaniel.
Though he hasn’t been utilized as a pass catcher much with Miami, Wilson has proven to be a solid option out of the backfield. He has 445 career receiving yards to go with his 1,971 rushing yards. Having a reliable presence on a cheap deal makes sense.
Teams That Could Be Interested in Jeff Wilson Jr.
Every team can theoretically use a back like Wilson. He’s not great at any one thing, and he has a history of missing games, though, making him an unreliable starter. His price tag will reflect this.
Though this is a deep free agent class of running backs and looks to be another deep draft class in the middle rounds, there are a number of aging free agent backs. Wilson is on the younger end of the veteran list. Only Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, D’Onta Foreman, and Rashaad Penny are younger.
I’d be stunned if Wilson costs more than any of those players and earns more than a two-year deal. He should earn interest from a dozen teams that could use a viable veteran No. 2 but don’t want to invest significant money or draft assets into someone who can contribute right now.
The list of teams Wilson could fit includes Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis, Denver, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Arizona. It’d be very easy for each of those teams to slide him into their No. 2 role right now.
What Is Jeff Wilson Jr.’s Market Value?
The running back market is the most unique of any position. There are eight backs making more than $7.8 million, with Barkey and Jacobs sure to join that group this offseason. Then, there are another seven making between $6 million and $7.79 million. Everyone else is making less.
Wilson is nowhere near the caliber of backs making more than $7 million. There are bad veteran running-back deals, though. James Conner and Edmonds are the most notable, and maybe Wilson tries to argue he’s worth their value since he’s as good as they are.
But teams shouldn’t oblige just because those contracts are awful. With Mostert seemingly taking over as the lead back in the last few weeks, Wilson should ask for a competitive backup’s salary, which would be comparable to J.D. McKissic’s $3.5 million-per-year deal.
It’s possible he doesn’t even get that much, though. Teams are notoriously cheap at the position, and Wilson’s injury history is concerning. He may get an incentive-laden deal with a much-lower base salary.
Other Dolphins Options at Running Back
Miami doesn’t need, nor can they afford, an expensive running back. Much like we’ve seen throughout Kyle Shanahan’s career, this offensive system that McDaniel also runs will produce efficient backs as long as they have a baseline level of talent. Miami can bring Mostert and Wilson back, plus add a Day 3 rookie like Blake Corum or Chase Brown, and be set for 2023.
It’s also possible Miami overhauls their backfield and goes cheaper than two veterans who have questionable durability. Samaje Perine is a stellar No. 2 back with pass-blocking and pass-catching skills. D’Ernest Johnson is a terrific pure runner who would be an under-the-radar addition.
We’ve seen McDaniel chase two more explosive backs in Edmonds and Mostert, meaning they could look to invest a higher draft pick into a bigger difference-maker. Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs would be a tremendous Day 2 investment if he’s on the board. Syracuse’s Sean Tucker or TCU’s Kendre Miller are two others who would fit the mold for this offense.